Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Invisible City Audio Tour: A Surreal Oakland Adventure

Want to go on a surreal geography tour of Oakland?

Check out Invisible City Audio Tours and its self-guided audio walking tour, Heliography, this Friday, Oct. 1, from 5 p.m. until dark.

Each tour is available as a free download along with a map and features emerging authors, curators, composers, musicians, performers, designers, cartographers, and artists local to the neighborhood explored.

What more do you want? Trapeze artists? I'll put in a vote for a ventriloquist and leave it at that.

Along with the audio component, the tour exhibits temporary, semi-temporary, and permanent visual art installations (I prefer semi-temporary installations to semi-permanent ones, although semi-absent ones are always the best, being so semi-ripe with semi-possibilities, but that's just me).

The event’s inspiration comes from Italo Calvino, who wrote in his book Invisible Cities, “And I hear, from your voice, the invisible reasons which make cities live, through which perhaps, once dead, they will come to life again.”

Here’s the skinny on how to hear the invisible reasons that Oakland lives and bring it to life again (if Jerry Brown had only known):

• Download the audio tour along with the map onto an MP3 player or onto a CD for walkman.
• Refrain from listening to the tour until the happening.
• Come to the MacArthur BART station, and push play (preferably right as you dismount the train in the platform).
• Walk the tour, stop at the landmarks and buy souvenirs from the visual artists (bring $$ or be square).
• Stop at the Murmur and say hello (or be square)
• Come grab a pint at the Commonwealth Cafe and Pub (or be square)

Invisible City Audio Tours was founded in 2010 by the whirling creative dervish Tavia Stewart-Streit (Watchword Press, National Novel Writing Month, and certainly much more).

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Emperor Franzen and the Jonathan Franzen Publicity Machine

As a white male author, perhaps I should be happy about the extravagant attention Jonathon Franzen has received for his novel Freedom. Perhaps I should take it as a sign that I too can receive the preferred treatment of yore--as if a sort of contemporary Mad Men scene is going on in the publishing industry, and I and other guy writers can still drink it up, expect to live a Hemingwayesque life of the glorious novelist.

The cover of Time magazine? Great American novelist? What era are we living in?

I’m not happy. I haven’t read Freedom, but I fell for the hoopla around The Corrections, and, well…I thought it was an adequate, but not great, novel (the proof point being that it's receding from my memory, except for a troubling, acidic aftertaste). The Corrections was like going on a date with the popular girl in high school, kissing her, and then realizing you'd rather hang out with your ne'er-do-well friends.

So, like others, I’m wondering what is so special about Freedom. And I’m wondering if Franzen’s publicist is what is special about Freedom. And I hope his publicist is getting a big, fat raise.

Seriously, how many people do you hear still talking about The Corrections—the novel itself, not the hype or the Oprah drama around it?

I hang around with writers of all sorts, and The Corrections is never mentioned. Alice Munro is mentioned. Denis Johnson is mentioned. Junot Diaz is mentioned. Jonathan Lethem is mentioned. Roberto Bolagno is mentioned. (Sorry for the male heavy list, but that’s who I am).

The Corrections is not a cultural touchstone. I'm betting Freedom won't be either. I'd say that I'm going to read Freedom, but since my first date with Franzen was less than inspiring, I'll probably pass (unless I get a meeting with his publicist).

But there are two good things that come out of this hype. First, at least fiction is being discussed (maybe once a decade a writer makes the cover of Time magazine?). Second, the behind-the-scenes satire starts to eclipse the publicity machine.

Just check out Emperor Franzen and his battle with the women writers who are trying to take him down. Hilarious stuff. A great image of Emperor Franzen donning an evil cloak.

The lesson of all of this is the same: The writing universe will never be fair. A gaggle of critics all seem to owe Franzen money. Maybe he's just a really good poker player. And perhaps Sam Tanenhaus from the Times is a gambling addict. Otherwise, I don't know how to explain it all.